Darryl Blakey is a recent graduate of the College of Agricultural Sciences from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Penn State in 2015 with a B.S. in Animal Science and a minor in Agribusiness Management. In his current position with the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., he uses his knowledge of the agricultural industry to advocate for the American producer by way of policy and legislative reform. Blakey began his college career at Tuskegee University in Alabama, and then transferred to Penn State, where he spent two years at the Berks campus before coming to University Park. During his time at Penn State, he was active in MANRRS, the Ag Advocates Club and student government. After graduation, he strengthened his interest in public policy as a public policy intern for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and was hired by the Committee on Agriculture as a staff assistant before being promoted to legislative assistant.
Q: What's it like working with the legislation in Washington? It seems very exciting.
A: I have to learn a lot of new things, but I am blessed to be able to pursue this opportunity. I work on a number of different issues and I am really learning as I go. Sometimes I feel like I'm still in school, but I'm utilizing my degree and the skills and tools I got at Penn State to do what I want to do. I look at what's in my portfolio, and that's what I have to learn, so here are CFTC issues, rural development programs within the USDA, trade issues. I need to learn these things from top to bottom to be able to answer questions like, "What possible changes can be made?" and "How does this impact our position in the world?" I'm not sure you could be 100% prepared right out of college to go into this, but you aren't limited by your degree, only by what you see yourself doing and how hard you work.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to work in government?
A: No, that came pretty recently, actually. As a high schooler at W.B. Saul, I thought I wanted to be a dairy farmer in the middle of Pennsylvania. And someday I would like to own my own land and have a farm if I have the resources. That still plays a role in how I view my career. I'm always thinking, "How can I help the American farmer and ranchers and producers of our food and fiber to ensure they can have a successful life in this industry that does such a great duty to our society?" My interest in government initially came from getting involved in different clubs and organizations and having responsibilities, sort of seeing the progress of things from beginning to end. Of course, I had heard of the Farm Bureau and other organizations like that, but I didn't realize there was actually a niche there for people who could work in agriculture and government until I got more involved. While I was the Student Government President at the Berks campus I got involved in the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments representing all of the student body, then as Vice President for the council at University Park I was responsible for representing over 20,000 students across the state. That helped me realize that I could actually be seen as a major leader in crafting legislation. The glue that connected agriculture and government for me was taking a class trip to D.C in the Advanced Beef course with Dr. Kniffen. There I had the chance to lobby for NCBA, which afforded me the opportunity to do some important things and really make a difference for agriculture.
Q: What's one of the big issues you focus on in your position?
A: In my current role at the committee, I try to focus on finding ways that can improve rural America, which goes from reviewing efficiency of programs to reviewing proposed rules that come from agencies to make sure they aren't unnecessary burdens on industries. However, as we look down the road, diversifying the agricultural industries is something that will be necessary in the future. The rural economy is struggling now, and it won't get any better unless we can get some young blood and people of different colors participating. You have to face reality about the situation we're in. I want to help companies, industries and governments see the value of investing in people from a minority or urban background, for example. There have to be incentives to repair infrastructure, have good access to things like broadband and public utilities to get people to decide that it's worth it to them to try to make a career in agriculture or in a rural area. There have to be investments in education for younger generations, to have a way to pass down the knowledge of how to run a farm so people don't end up selling off portions of their land, but can continue to run and grow that family business. There's no easy fix for these problems; you have to look at it from a lot of angles and try to find solutions.
Q: That sounds difficult. But you seem pretty optimistic about the future.
A: Well, at the Committee on Agriculture, we have an opportunity to listen to everyone's concerns. I like to think we are very bipartisan as committees go. We hear from the left and from the right, and we consider all of these things carefully. What we try to do is help businesses and industry figure out changes that they can make rather than starting by mandating policies. So by working together, by listening to all the voices, we get things done without doing harm to markets or segments of the industry. I'm really looking forward to the Farm Bill that will be coming up soon, because we will have some new discussions coming up with a new Congress. And there are these young, innovative folks working on Capitol Hill who care about agricultural policy and families that have farms. They actually want to make a difference and work on these issues to help people.
Q: You're just starting out. Where do you want to go from here?
A: In the near future, I would love to continue with what I'm doing now in a more senior position. I can see myself staying with the Committee or working at an agency or association or as a lobbyist. Positions in D.C. are very fluid, and you never know exactly where you'll end up. You could even end up in private industry. Regardless, I'm going to continue to work with the folks that care about the agricultural industry to make progress on issues that affect the American farmer.